Readings: Amos 8:4-7; Psalm 113; 1 Timothy 2:1-8; Luke 16:1-13
It is one of the strangest of the parables. Jesus recommends the shrewdness of a dishonest steward. You must at least be as prudent as this man was, quick as he was, alert and attentive to what is happening. People put their cleverness and gifts at the service of shady deals. You must try to use your cleverness and gifts in the pursuit of things that have eternal value.
There is often 'honour among thieves', as the old saying has it. It can be taken to mean that there is some minimal integrity in everybody. It may be a loyalty to people involved in the same kind of wickedness but at least it is loyalty, an experience of friendship. It may be the acceptance of certain limits to unethical behaviour and a determination that those limits not be crossed even while persisting in that behaviour. We can take the parable to be saying 'find the bit of integrity there is in you, find the place where you have some kind of wisdom and prudence, find where you are committed to some truth no matter how banal or ordinary'. You can begin with that integrity, prudence, or truth, and you can build something more substantial on that foundation. If there is a basis for trust and confidence, even if for the moment it is supporting things that are not good, then there is at least the possibility that you will find your way to being entrusted with genuine riches.
Another strange statement is this one: 'if you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours?' It seems like it is the wrong way round. Surely it is more logical to say 'if you are not trustworthy with what is yours, who will give you what belongs to another'. It invites us to think about how we are alienated from ourselves in the ways in which we treat other people, their interests and their goods. Alienation is an important term in Marx's analysis of social and economic realities. Augustine had used the term long before to talk about the spiritual disorientation and loss that comes with any sin, not just the structural ones Marx was interested in.
We are in exile from ourselves, seeking to find ourselves in the things that belong to others, but realising that we are not fully trustworthy with those. Inevitably, it seems, we end up using others for our pleasure, to serve our interests, to strengthen the false persona we try to present to the world. How are we to get back to ourselves, to the base of integrity on which something can be built? How, like the prodigal son last week, are we to 'come to our senses'? How are we to find ourselves again so as to focus our energies, our prudence, our action, our devotion, on things that are worthwhile?
Besides the unjust dealings referred to in the passage from Amos and in the gospel reading, there is another exchange referred to in today's readings. This is the price paid by Christ Jesus when he gave himself as a ransom for all (second reading). This is the one who is most himself, fully integrated, fully at home. From that base of his own identity and integrity as the Son of the Father he can act for the salvation of the whole world. God wants everybody to be saved, we are told today, and to come to the knowledge of the truth. Everybody knows some truth and from there the road to Truth can open up, the Truth that there is one God and one mediator between God and human beings, Jesus the Christ.
We easily get lost in compromises, mediocrity, betrayals and confusions. The unjust steward is alert and watchful, a man of vision and creativity. We are called to be like that, except that we place those gifts and virtues at the service of the kingdom. There is always some point at which we can begin, some honour we show, some truth we know, some love we share. Let us make friends with those things and see our heart's desire blossom into something of eternal value.